Sunday, July 27, 2008

Barack Hates the Yankees, Too

Wish I'd Thought of It

People in Iowa sure are smart. Some have attempted a citizen's arrest of that notorious creep, Karl Rove. Good stuff.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


So. When's the last time you saw Europeans gathering to cheer an American? When's the last time you heard a crowd of 200,000+ people chanting "USA! USA!" outside our country's borders? Well, it happened today when Barack spoke in Berlin. And it's about time.

Today's speech reiterated how important it is to repair, and - yes - improve, our relationships with allies abroad. And seeing people of all colors and sizes greet Obama as if he was one of their own says volumes about how we go about fixing these relationships. I like the strategy he seems to be employing, which stresses how alike we all are, how we share values, and hopes, and desires for the future. These discussions, whether they're behind a podium in Berlin or back home, can only make America more secure.

This is what good judgment is. This is what intelligence is. This is what security is.

Take note, America. (See more great pictures from Berlin here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shanghai to Shrewsbury

Well, the last day is finally here - and the work we came here to do is finished. So we went out on the town to celebrate with our colleagues.

Started at a shopping district near Yuan Gardens:

And then we went to dinner:

And walked around The Bund:

And I iz one tired puppy. Night, all!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Working Life

Today was as much like a normal workday as it could be on the other side of the world. Our Chinese driver picked us up at our hotel and drove us the 40 minutes or so to the office. We held our training session with some of the most eager students I've ever worked with. Mostly a room of 30-year-olds, many with university degrees, all of whom paid close attention to everything we said. This is typically not the reaction we get from American colleagues, particularly this age group. In fact, at one point we said we'd take a break for 15 minutes and not one person got up and left the room - they just continued working. Be afraid, Americans, be very afraid. The Chinese are coming and they're ready to take your jobs.

Last night at dinner, the manager of the Shanghai office told us that only about 5% of the workers for our company actually own a car. Most take public transportation/walk to work, but many ride bikes or scooters. Some even take taxis to work - which surprised us, although that's not as expensive as it sounds. We took a cab last night for about a 15 minute ride and it cost only about $3US. Then again, two cups of coffee this morning cost us about $20US. Hard to know why things are valued this way.

Took a few pictures along the way that illustrate the way Chinese typically commute:

Caught this guy on the commute home:

Had a free night so took a walk up the street from the hotel to the mall:

And a fountain along the way:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Shanghai Surprise

Yesterday's travels to Shanghai and today's workday have pooped me out. This won't have a lot of content, mostly pictures because I'm ready for bed. But I do want to at least get this much done. And I'm sorry for not responding to emails, I hope to do more of that tomorrow!

Took some pictures from our 38th floor breakfast area in the hotel, the lobby itself:

How 'bout these crazy chairs?

We were lucky enough to get a driver to transport us to the office on the outskirts of Shanghai. It was a wild ride, even by my standards. Pedestrians crossed between cars, bicycles darted in and out of traffic. The van we were riding in switched lanes uncountable numbers of times, sometimes blowing its horn, sometimes crossing the double yellow line to pass cars when another car was coming toward us. I finally found a city with worse drivers than Boston! Some pictures from out the car window:

After work, we went out for Chinese food. Ha! See what I did there?? I crack myself up. (Yeah, I'm tired. So what of it?)

Anyway...multiple dishes are placed on the lazy Susan and you simply serve yourself from the group dishes:

It was delicious. Except for some raw meat that I steered clear of.

One of our colleagues made us go out to the lobby of the restaurant to see the "100 day" birthday party being thrown by a family of a 100-day old daughter. Seems they invited 300 of their nearest and dearest to mark the occasion. Note the poster-sized pictures of the child! If she gets this for being 100 days old, what in hell will her wedding be like?

Not too much of excitement planned for the next few days. Counting the hours till the long plane ride back home!!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

If It's Sunday, It Must be Shanghai

Made the short hop over from Osaka to Shanghai today, which included so many modes of transportation, it's hard to keep it all straight.

Took a taxi (transportation type 1) to the Kyoto train station, where we were pretty much like your average run-of-the-mill contestants on "Amazing Race." We had to use our wiles to figure out where to buy a ticket and find the train. The tricky part was that there were two train stations in Kyoto, and two airports in Osaka, with both express trains and locals to choose from. After asking several people, we were able to figure it out and it all went smoothly once on board.

Some pictures of the countryside of southwestern Japan:

And an interesting building in Osaka:

The railcar (type 2) was nearly empty so we were able to spread out a little bit. The 75 minute ride dropped us right at the airport and we went through to our gate easily, following a short shuttle bus ride (type 3). Business class on the All Nippon Air flight was also not filled up, making the plane ride (type 4) a piece o'cake. We noticed that going through customs in Shanghai was a lot more aggressive than in Tokyo. People pushed ahead and jostled one another to get advantage, making me miss the gentle Japanese a bit.

We were greeted by a bellhop (literally dressed in his monkey suit) at baggage claim, who quickly moved us to an awaiting car (type 5) for the drive to downtown Shanghai. And, if China is considered communist still, you wouldn't be able to tell it by the looks of the suite I have. We're not exactly sure how we qualified for this situation, but we're enjoying it.

The check-in was a trip in and of itself. They whisked us to the 38th floor, which is known as the "Executive Lounge." There, we were shown to some comfortable chairs, given a beer, while they did the check in thing. Another set of bellhops stood waiting and guarding our suitcases all the while. Then they took us to our rooms:

The suite also has two bathrooms, a flat screen TV in the bedroom and a regular one in the living room. I even have my own fax machine if anyone needs to contact me.

Right now I'm really tired and work starts early tomorrow, so I'll leave you for now. Pleasant dreams, people!

And for HorshamScouse...I'm working on that World Financial Center thing. I'll let you know how that one goes as the week progresses.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Just an Ordinary Saturday

Keeping busy in Kyoto on Saturday is not the least bit difficult. To help us get a sense of this place (which we've learned is the seventh largest city in Japan) we signed up for a half-day tour of three typical spots. First, Nijo Castle, home of the Shoguns. (I didn't see the mini-series or read the book, but may want to do that after this tour.) Then, we went to a Shinto shrine - ack! I didn't write the name of it down! It was a last minute change to the itinerary. I'll have to do some searching to see if I can find it. And we ended at the "Golden Pavillion" (really named Kinkakuji Temple), a Bhuddist temple.

Here's the best pictures of the day, starting with Nijo Castle, which was built in 1603. We weren't able to take pictures inside, but it was a beautiful series of Japanese rooms, with painted murals and carvings. Each place a nail was used, it was covered by a carved metal plate, over 400 in all, each with a different design.

The halls around the rooms were configured beneath so that they squeaked when you walked. This was to discourage assassins from sneaking up on the Shogun. They are called "nightengale" floors for that reason.

Before we could enter the shrine we had to remove our shoes and put them on the shelves:

The Shogun really knew how to make a nice garden, and if you look closely, you'll see an osprey on the bridge. It had just flown over our heads and landed there. Damn fine bird, with a helluva wide wingspan.

I can't believe I don't have the name of this shrine, but it was so freaking hot it was all I could do to take pictures and listen to the guide's descriptions of the places we visited:

At this shrine, one walks up to this place, throws money between the slats, steps back and prays. When finished, you clap twice, bow and back away. I also saw another woman pull on the rather long cord in the middle of the picture to ring the brass bell hung above. This picture doesn't really do it justice.

The back side of the shrine:

Then we were off to the Golden Pavillion:

The tour brochure says this is "perhaps the world's most authentic and exquisite Japanese garden." It was beautiful, certainly and we practically melted with the humidity:

As part of the visit to the shrine (and to make a few yen), we were invited to light a candle and some incense. First, you choose your prayer topic: - I picked a candle for the "God of Marriage."

Then I placed it here:

And lit my incense and placed it here. You stand for a moment and say your prayer and wave your hands over the rising smoke, pulling it toward yourself:

After some shopping and rest at the hotel, we ventured out for dinner last night, but didn't go far. Resting up for today's journey to China. We check out here around noon, take a taxi to the train station, hop a ride to Osaka Airport, get on a Nippon Airways flight to Shanghai. Once we land there, we are to be picked up by a car from the office, which will take us to our hotel. Luckily, in Shanghai it seems like we might have more personal care.

I'm really ready to come home now. It's been going great, but I'm tired of hotels and would really love to have a hamburger right about now.

Hope you all are well! See you in Shanghai!

Friday, July 11, 2008

On the Road Again

Greetings from Kyoto. The bullet train from Tokyo was about as smooth a ride as one could ask for - so very civilized as opposed to travel by plane. AND, the Japanese know how to run a railroad: the trains arrive PRECISELY on time, people queue up to get on them rather than push their way forward like Boston's commuter rail. AND, you could practically eat off the floor of the rail car, it's so clean:

Took about 2 and a quarter hours to get to Kyoto, and man, this place is HOT. It's not like a tropical heat, or a city in the midst of a humidity attack. It's just like a furnace. I didn't expect Kyoto to be as large a city as it is. It's not quite the small, quaint tourist town I had pictured, but it has its moments. Including this taste of the USA, which is posted here for my friend, Tex:

See, there's no avoiding the American influence, no matter where we go. But, on the same walk we took tonight, we also found a bamboo forest that was interesting:

But, our destination was a district called Gian Corner, which turned out to be quite picturesque:

And for the second night in a row, we were able to chow down at a restaurant that seemed to be full of locals. We had more sushi, tempura, yakitori (sp?) and grilled veggies, including eggplant and corn on the cob. Yummy.

Had an interesting conversation with a Chinese woman and a Japanese man sitting next to us. She had relatives in Cahl-eee-FOR-nia...a place called "Los". Turned out to be LA, but, hey, she gave it a try. Luckily, it seems that Americans are embraced in the places we've been - people make an effort to speak English and are as courteous as humanly possible - almost to a fault.

Enjoyed my first sake tonight, too. It is served warm, and has a decidedly licorice flavor. Way too easy going down, even in this heat.

When we arrived back at the hotel tonight, it appears to have been taken over by Hollywood as the perfect place for a wedding. Something tells me tomorrow is going to be a happy day for some lovely couple:

In the morning we're going on a half-day tour around Kyoto, do some relaxing in the evening, and heading to Shanghai on Sunday. So far, so good.

I apologize (again) for the lack of insight in these posts. I just want to get the facts down so I can sort through them later and hopefully make some sense out of them. This really is a trip of a lifetime. I just wish more of my loved ones were with me right now.

Love to all of you!